Tuesday, November 21, 2006

THE DAY WHORE AND OTHER CONCERNS

Last night I headed out for the theater and my shoes were in an awful state.

I am hard on shoes, but in the time I’ve been in London, the few pairs I brought with me have degraded to a desperate, third-world condition. My boots are broken, my Converse are caked in mud, it is a sad affair. Especially for the shoes.

I believe in dressing for the theater. Maybe it is a bit of a reactionary stance, since most people wear blue jeans and sneakers and spend two hours sucking on gummy worms, but when I go to the theater, I like to look nice. So last night I put on a dress, stockings, jewelry. I slipped on my winter coat with a fur collar, a felt hat and, for lack of options, a sad pair of soft, black-leather wedge heels.

Once upon a time they were nice shoes. They really were. I bought them retail, for chrissake. But they’ve stretched so much that I cannot keep the heel on my foot. Every few paces I step right out of the shoe, crushing the back to an even more unrecognizable state. Walking in these shoes is a bit of an adventure.

And the hat, felt, with a droopy brim and a tie at the side, is very gamine, very 20’s. It’s exactly the kind of hat I would wear to look longingly through the window of a dark shop at the locket I had to sell in order to buy a loaf of bread and some milk for the baby.

I went to see the Tennessee Williams play "Summer and Smoke", in the West End. How was it you ask? Imagine spending two hours listening to British people try to speak in a posh Mississippi Delta drawl. It’s like listening to myself speak French. It was a train wreck, but at least it was expensive. And long.

At last the play was over. I put on my hat, my fur-collared coat, and dove into the night to shuffle my way back to the hotel. My path from the theater to the hotel leads directly through Soho, a hip neighborhood with a seedy undercurrent. The aesthetic could be described as Boystown meets Amsterdam.

A quick digression about London’s Soho:

Once I was in Soho in the afternoon, running some errand for my boss. It is rather quiet during the day, devoid of people. The red lights of the porn shops seem somewhat less menacing, the bars and restaurants less snobby and hip. I walked by an open door with a beaded curtain and a barely dressed lady. She was standing with her eyes wide, leaning against the doorframe with her hip jutted out. She was, however, rather portly, with a mess of frizzy black hair and a sneery mouth. I was unimpressed with her, honestly. I figured the establishment that employed her must be rather down-market, even for a whorehouse.

Later that night I found myself back in Soho, walking down the same street. Now the neighborhood had come alive. Every street was crawling with people looking for a good time, and merchants hoping to provide it for them. I happened to walk by the very same open door, with the very same beaded curtain, only now with a different lady. And she was quite lovely, actually—thin, with gorgeous Mediterranean curls and big brown eyes and a sweet mouth. I realized that the woman I had seen earlier must have been the day whore. The day whore! Get your minds around that, fair readers.

But anyway, back to the story.

So, it was in Soho that I found myself last night after the play, shuffling along, alone in my bad shoes, trying not to convert the amount I spent on the ticket into dollars, trying not to hear, “But now I can feel the Gulf Wind a-blowin’ in from the south” buzzing in my ear like a trapped fly. I was walking rather absent-mindedly, when I looked around and realized that I turned on an empty street. There was no one to be seen, anywhere. I could hear the merry-making swelling out from the bars and restaurants, but it seemed far away. I drew in a breath. The muscles in my back tightened. That’s when a man in a grey track suit and a shock of black hair approached me, hissing:

“Hey lady, want some crack?”

I shook my head without making eye contact. I drove my hands into my pockets. I turned the corner, retreating. I walked a few steps with my head down. I listened for his footsteps behind me—I heard nothing. I turned my head to see if he was there, and I saw him turn in the other direction. I exhaled. I relaxed. I watched his black hair disappear from view.

I exited Soho and continued my journey back to the hotel under the Christmas lights of Regent Street. Commerce shined out proudly from behind plate glass. I felt safe, and angry. Crack? Crack? Do I look like I want Crack?!! I’m wearing a dress for crying out loud!! I’m wearing stockings!! People who smoke crack don’t wear stockings!!

But then, the camera of my mind’s eye zoomed out and I saw myself, in my 1920’s hat, my fur-collared coat, hobbling at a snail’s pace through the windy streets of Soho, stopping every two paces to mutter a curse and pull at the back of my left shoe. I realized—I looked exactly like a crazy person. I looked like an eccentric alcoholic. I look like the kind of person who may be looking for crack.

Mother, aren’t you proud?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Your Mother said...

I am proud...now that makes me crazy. Now you know how I feel everytime I put on a pair of shoes...you inherited that from me!